The gears of the sports fan switch rapidly these days. No sooner does the enjoyment of one sports season end when preparation for the next sports season begins.
And you know what’s next, don’t you? Football.
Many of you never take a break from thinking about football. Every week, you sit in church doodling fantasy football mock drafts in the margins of your Sunday service program. You take it upon yourself to schedule a “girls night out” for your wife and her friends on the day Madden is released in stores. And you named your children Anquan and Fitz, and Fitz is a girl.
Well, I do like baseball and basketball, but when the NBA draft ended late last month I must admit I immediately began thinking football. I had to remind myself of the best stories awaiting us this fall, both locally and throughout the football world. Here’s what I come up with.
5. WILL THE CARDINALS EVER HAVE A RUNNING GAME?
Not since 2002 have the Cardinals finished in the NFL’s top 20 running the football. I understand that we’re waist deep in an era of passing the football, but that doesn’t mean you want to be the worst at running the ball. And the Cardinals have been the worst rushing team in the NFL four of the last seven seasons. A top-ten draft pick was spent on a guard, and Rashard Mendenhall was acquired through free agency; let’s see if the Cardinals can avoid putting everything on Carson Palmer’s shoulders this season.
4. STAR WATCH
Assuming everyone stays out of trouble (cough/Ka’Deem) Sun Devils and Wildcats fans will showcase potential collegiate superstars this fall. U of A’s Ka’Deem Carey returns after leading the nation in rushing last season. And all signs point to ASU’s Will Sutton being a first round lock for the 2014 NFL Draft.
3. DARYL WASHINGTON’S LEGAL WOES
How much will star linebacker Daryl Washington play this season for the Cardinals? If at all? Arguably the team’s best player, Washington is going to miss four games for a violation of the league’s drug policy — that much we know. He could miss the entire season depending upon whether he has a viable defense for his domestic violence arrest in May. And it’s not out of the question that Washington’s days as a Cardinal are over. His next court date is slated for August 6.
2. PROTECTING PALMER
The TV show Twin Peaks began with the mystery of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” I hope the Cardinals’ 2013 season doesn’t begin with the mystery “Who got Carson Palmer killed?” The Cardinals finished last in the league in sacks allowed, and Palmer is the slowest quarterback in the NFL. Doesn’t sound like a good combo. The line obviously must improve pass protection AND Palmer better be as good at pre-reading the defense as the front office would have us believe.
1. THE BRUCE ARIANS ERA
The Cardinals have a new head coach. That kind of high-profile hire always makes for a big story, but Arians happens to be replacing the only coach to lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. At age 60, he’s landed his first head coaching position. Why did it take so long? Does his personality work as the top dog? And will he be the first NFL head coach to wear a Kangol on the sidelines? These are just some of the questions facing the new Arians Era.
The five biggest stories in football, period….
5. AARON HERNANDEZ
What impact will the Aaron Hernandez case have on the NFL? To me, Hernandez’s crime isn’t a stain on ‘The Shield,’ it’s a stain on society at large. This wasn’t a man looking for a way around NFL personal conduct standards, this was a man who felt perfectly comfortable breaking our most fundamental of laws. He didn’t just play a game with his jersey untucked, he murdered someone… allegedly. The NFL could probably use stiffer personal conduct policies, but not because Aaron Hernandez is going on trial for murder. However, because of Hernandez and the front page news his story has generated, I’m betting much tougher personal conduct policies are on the way.
4. JADAVEON CLOWNEY
Each year, coverage of the NFL Draft expands a bit more. And trust me, long before the 2014 draft order is set, experts will be sizing up the race for #1 pick Jadeveon Clowney. The South Carolina defensive end would have gone #1 this season had he been eligible. Instead, we get to watch a third, and likely best, collegiate season from the pass rusher who famously separates ball carriers from their helmets. I don’t know who is going to finish with the worst record in the NFL this fall, but Jadeveon Clowney is on the clock.
3. CHIP KELLY’S OFFENSE
Like him or not, Chip Kelly changed the game of college football. Forget the hurry-up offense, Kelly was the first major college football coach who decided to play fast break football. Never huddle, snap the ball every 14 seconds, don’t give the defense a chance to substitute or adjust, go, go, go. And now Kelly is taking his innovative approach to the NFL. And I, for one, can’t wait to see if it works.
2. JOHNNY FOOTBALL
I’m already sick of Johnny Manziel coverage and practice hasn’t even started, much less a game. Heck, even Manziel has grown weary of all the attention. Don’t get me wrong, this is a big story. Manziel will look to become just the second two-time Heisman Trophy winner this year. And considering the fact that he has three more seasons of eligibility, he could be the first to win three or more Heismans. That is, if he doesn’t get tired of Joe Schad and Samantha Ponder following him around 24/7. The Aggie quarterback has already hinted at entering the draft after this year, despite concerns over whether his game even translates to the NFL.
AND #1. PLAYER SAFETY
It’s not going away. And for all those fans who’ve complained for years that Roger Goodell has sissified your sport, you may want to just retire from football fandom now and join a fight club, ‘cuz this thing is about to get a whole lot more flag-footbally. Player safety lawsuits are a major threat to the league. Once that floodgate opens for one player, hundreds are prepared to follow. So, the NFL is making every move they can to prove their about safety first. Most hits on the quarterback have been taken away, most hits in the secondary have as well and now running backs can’t lower their heads in the open field. Where’s it all headed? Imagine 7-on-7 passing drills with shorts and leather helmets.